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Space Mining

When science fiction translates into reality, good things tend to happen.

In the case of a new private sector undertaking, great things may be on the horizon for both space exploration and human achievement.

The latest enterprise planned by legendary explorer/filmmaker James Cameron is something straight out of sci-fi movies and videogames; mining asteroids for precious metals and minerals.

Helping form a company called Planetary Resources Inc, James Cameron and Google CEO Larry Page have ambitious plans for the future, and if realised, they might just push the world several eons ahead of our current technological limitations.

These magnates of the business world have, along with several wealthy visionaries, designed a feasible method of drilling deep space asteroids for the ore inside of them. This is the largest space endeavor by any private sector company, and while extremely difficult and daring, it promises to be a very lucrative exploit in the near future.

Planetary Resources’ first step is to launch telescopes to scan the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and discover a candidate for mining. They will then send unmanned robotic spacecraft to the first candidate, attach a towing mechanism, and bring it into orbit around the Moon, where water, platinum, cobalt, and other minerals will be extracted and brought to Earth.

It’s been estimated that a relatively small asteroid (1.6km size approx.) contains more than $20trillion USD of minerals and ore. In retrospect, the costs to mine these asteroids vary in the multi-million to billion dollar range, but if successful, the payoff could be world-changing. International economies would receive a mega boost from this method of mining, and similar operations would sprout up around the globe.

Larger asteroids could provide landing and fueling ports for future missions to Mars and other planets. The cost to build and develop spaceships would exponentially decrease, along with costs to fuel and launch them.

With governments toning down their presence in the space industry, private companies have begun stepping up to fill the void. Earlier this year, a company called SpaceX successfully sent a robot shuttle to the International Space Station. Other companies are similarly planning trips to the Mars, and working on building a giant space elevator.

Sources:

Wall Street Journal – http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303513404577356190967904210.html
Mashable – http://mashable.com/2012/08/29/liftportspaceelevator/
NBC – http://cosmiclog.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/05/31/11983318-spacexsdragonsplashesdownendinghistoricmission?lite

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